So you are ready to bottle your homebrew but need bottles, no worries, just re-use your existing bottles! There’s no need to go out and spend $12 or whatever for 12 empties when you can simply spend $15 for some nice commercial brew. Not only do you get some beer, but you also get the bottles for free! Firstly, make sure you get the non-screw type beer. That’s right, commercial watered down swill need not apply. You will need a beer with some quality bottles. In this example I am using a beer that begins with Fat and ends with Tire. I found these to be very easy to use and remove the label.
Anyhow, removing the labels from commercial beer bottles is totally doable albeit not all that easy but it will save you some cash and allow you to use and re-use bottles that would otherwise end up in the trash.
Removing the Labels
One of the crappy things about using commercial bottles is removing the labels. Of course this isn’t entirely necessary, me personally, I think there’s just something that I don’t like about drinking homebrew from commercially labeled bottles. So I like to remove the labels. While this sounds easier said than done, removing the labels is entirely possible with the right process.
There are really 3 ways of removing the labels. Heat, chemical or mechanical. First, lets forget about the mechanical method. If you’ve ever been just a bit drunk and found yourself mindlessly peeling labels off your beer then you know that this method pretty much sucks a big one. Next is the chemical method. While there’s lots of chemicals out there which will make short work of these labels, you probably don’t want to use them if you actually plan on consuming your homebrew. About the only chemical that you want to use here is alcohol and that’s what we will be using to help us finish the job. That leaves the heat, which is the main method we will use because it’s relatively safe and easy. Heat will simply melt the adhesive making it easier to remove.
The first thing we want to use is to bring a pot to almost a boil. Any pot where you can fit bottles will work. In this example, I am using a small pressure cooker pot. You may be thinking why not just pressure cook those bottles. The answer is, the pot is not tall enough. So we will fill it about half way with water and bring that to almost a boil. You don’t want to fill too much as the bottles might just float right out of your pot. Anyhow, you have the water to almost a boil, you want to lower the heat and place our bottles into the pot. I was able to fit 6 or 8 bottles without a problem. The goal here is to simply get it hot enough to peel the label easily. About 5-10 minutes will suffice. Now I don’t know this for a fact, but you might not want to heat the bottles up too much as we don’t know how much heat they can take before exploding. Better safe than sorry here! Anyhow, once you get them hot enough, take them out of the pot and peel the labels. They will come right off. I used the wife’s oven mitts to take them out of the pot. Sit them on a heat safe surface for a few minutes to let them cool.
Once you have peeled the label, you will be left with the sticky part on the bottle. This is the hardest part to remove. Once you remove the label, set the bottle down as I mentioned above and let it cool a bit. You don’t want to got from hot water to cold as you may end up with a bottle exploding in your hands, NOT GOOD!
So let those cool for a bit, they will cool pretty fast. 5 minutes at most. While still on the warm side, we want to spritz some alcohol on the labels, this is the chemical part of our process. Rubbing alcohol works good here. This will make the sticky stuff brittle and not so sticky. Be aware that not all labels were created equal. I used some Fat Tire bottles and found the sticky stuff to turn brittle once cooled and sprayed with alcohol. I also tried with some Lagunitas bottles and found those to remain sticky even after the heat and alcohol treatment. The moral of the story here is your mileage will vary depending on the label. A small sprayer bottle comes in handy here to spray the alcohol and you may need to spray more than once. As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of other chemicals that will work but I feel alcohol is about the harshest you want to go to keep things food safe.
Anyhow, once you’ve let the bottles cool and spritzed them with alcohol, we need to scrub them with a scotch brite pad. Green, Red, Gray (pads ) it doesn’t really matter. The pad will not scratch the glass and will remove the sticky stuff rather quickly. Scrub the bottle well until you get most or all of the sticky stuff off. On some labels, you will still have some sticky stuff left no matter how much you scrub but it’s not necessary to get it all off in one shot. If you keep reusing the bottles, it will come off as you wash the bottles over time so don’t worry too much about that. Our goal is to remove most of the label material so we are left with a virgin looking bottle. Though semi virgin will suffice I think.
Re-use and Re-Use
Once you get the labels off, that’s all there is to it. You can now simply sanitize and bottle as usual. Keep reusing those bottles! If you get on a good brewing schedule, you can ferment, bottle, drink with the same bottle set.
If you hated removing the labels, then you probably don’t want to re-label them and go through this process again. A good alternative is the chalk pen and vinyl chalkboard labels. You can simply peel these off without residue and re-use them. The chalk simply wipes off which leaves you with a fresh label. As a bonus, you don’t have to use your precious printer ink for new labels and you can get as artistic as you want, go crazy on them!